Fisher-Price® My First Terrain Project

I’m going to start with a quick write up of my first two terrain projects. I worked on both in parallel and was doing both before I had any idea I should be taking pictures or documenting the process. All to say that my memory of the work is imperfect so this will be an incomplete picture,

X-Wing Crashed in the Mud

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When I first got the itch to build Legion terrain, I started doing research on stuff I liked, and very quickly found my eyes outpacing my watch - meaning getting big ideas and moving on them without properly allocating time and planning on any one given project. I ended up with a lot of parts and no roadmap. One such part was a Poe Dameron X-wing toy I found which was of good scale and size for Legion, and honestly just looked really cool.

I had this vision of a crashed x-wing on the table, its nose buried in the ground and broken parts scattered around. I opted to start on this project as soon as the model arrived, and without any real sketching or planning. Herein lies my first a biggest mistake. Good terrain is thought out and planned. You dont start cutting a glueing based on a vague idea of an end product. As such, it took three iterations to get this piece usable, and even after all that it is unlikely it will come out too often.

The first step was distressing the ship. This should have been done after I knew better how it would sit, but kitbashing sounded like too much fun to wait. I cut off one wing, burned and bent anything that stuck out too far, then melted and sanded down the paint all over the model so it looked battle and crash scarred. Despite the poor planning I was really happy with how this processed ended up. The toy came with a little pilot. I wanted to keep him as a dead pilot in the ship, so I cut his back with an x-acto knife and melted his legs so I could position him slumped over in the cockpit.

Next I picked up some 2” styrofoam to rest the ship in. Here is where I started to go wrong with the build. 2” was WAY too tall for what I wanted, and required I cut a massive amount off the top. Moreover, I did not yet know the difference between styrofoam and extruded/insulation foam, and the styrofoam I picked up was not idea for using in terrain. The little beads broke off in unappealing patterns, and left the surface looking pocked in an unnatural way.

I wanted the ship to sit in the foam, like it had crashed and stuck into the ground. Again, without much planning, I started cutting and melting the foam block so that it had a ship-shaped depression. This was largely done by laying a hot soldering iron down on the foam so that it melted down. This smelled terrible, ruined the (admittedly cheap) soldering iron and probably gave me cancer, but it did leave a fairly good impression that the ship could rest in. The long streaks left by the iron also looked like the ground being rent as the ship skidded to a stop, so that came out better than it could have. I finished this step by using a foam cutting wire to slice the block around the ship impression into a rounded hill.

I primed the foam block with Army Painter leather brown primer. Just as I was warned would happen, the the primer melted the foam a little when sprayed on. THis meant there was always some amount of white showing through. I had read suggestions of primers which could be used on foam without melting it, but I have yet to find any of these primers for sale anywhere. Two heavy coats and one light spray got enough of it to pass muster.

I thought at this point I was pretty well done, so I got a hot glue gun, and glued the ship into the foam base. The hot glue made a huge mess and was hard to control, which left big globs of glue on the ship, the base, and piled out of the impression the ship sat in. It did dry firm - too firm as it turned out. The ship’s wings pulled the sides of the foam base up slightly, meaning the piece would not sit flat on the table.

So the next step was to cut a base out of MDF board and glue the ship and foam onto that. This required a log of messy weighting to get the bent foam to sit on the board flat while the glue dried for ~24 hours. I piled bricks all over it like a real artist.

Once that dried it would once again sit flat. Now I needed to make it look like mud, not a brown styrofoam and wood. The first trick I tried was texture. Sand glued onto the base was a popular option I had seen online, so I walked down to the local playground and picked up a cup of sand. Next mistake: I sprayed glue all over the base and the foam, and got some on the model as well. I poured the sand across all of, then left it to dry without knocking any of the sand off. I assume that some of the sand would dry and some would not, and a fair amount would fall off when it was dry. I was wrong. Almost all of the sand dried onto the piece, making it look buried in sand.

Next came painting. At this point the piece was coming into its final form, but still looked terrible. I started with a dark brown paint over all of the base, foam and sand to get it uniform. I then painted a little bit of Stirland Mud over the largest flat areas. to give it some texture. I let that dry, then went back over almost all of the base with Vallejo Thick Black Mud. This make a huge difference in the look. Before the overabundance of sand made the model look too gritty for what I wanted, but once the mud pain was mixed in it looked more natural, like a muddy hill. I went back after it had dried a little and pushed big globs of the mud texture down into the foam recession, where it did not line up with the ship model. This made it look much more grounded (even if it did waste a lot of the paint texture). I was sloppy with this process on purpose so that splatters of the mud would get onto the ship.

This mud paint took about a day to dry well enough. Once it was dry, I did a thin coat of still water over all the base and foam to make it look wet. That dried for another day, then I added my flocking. I painted PVA glue on the wood base very thick, and pressed a fair amount of coarse burnt grass into that area. I then sprayed a lighter coat of glue on the foam and sprinkled more of the burnt grass texture onto there. In hindsight I should have used a richer, more verdant color for the flocking, but this worked pretty well.

Once the glue had dried I shook / brushed off any which was loose, then did my last coat of still water. This round mostly consisted of pouring, not brushing. I poured thick pools of it into the rivets where the ship had ripped up the earth, like water had settled into these divots. I did some extra as well on the foam in ridges where water could have settled.

With this done, I was pretty happy with it. My concerns with the piece are largely with how useful it will be, not with how it was created. Units can’t really stand on it firmly, so it will mostly be a blocking piece rather than something the units can use or interact with.

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High Ground

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My next piece was basic terrain with no model or 3D printed items on it. All of the games I had played up until that point had been pretty flat - buildings or scatter terrain but nothing taller than height 1. I liked the idea of variable height terrain to switch the game up. I wanted introduce items which needed climb/clamber to get on top of, but which would then provide a height benefit to the units.

I watched a number of tutorials online and found a few which seemed to show terrain I liked the idea of. I built an idea in my head of what I wanted - a two tiered hill units could use to get varied height as needed for line of sight, which would also provide some extra cover options. I had planned to put some sort of emplacement at the highest point that units who took the hill could use as heavy cover for an added benefit, forcing the opponent to flank around behind the hill to take them out efficiently.

What I ended up with was a piece I call “Stupid Hill”. My plans never got sketched out, and I just build things as I went along without thinking about the final product, so I ended up with something mostly useless.

My first mistake was material. I did not yet know the different between styrofoam and extruded insulation foam. I’ll do a better write up of the difference later, but for now I’ll say this was the wrong choice. It cut cleanly, but as soon as I started trying to give it texture by cutting into it, it feel apart. It also absorbed the paint in weird ways, which meant I could never quite get all the original white painted over.

I drew out roughly want I wanted (again, without thinking it all the way through) and cut out three pieces - a larger bottom and two smaller tops. I then re-cut all around the bottom part to make it more angled, like a hill sloping up. This means the top two parts to the hill also needed to be cut with the same angle so it would like up with the lower block. The back and forth cutting to get the top and bottom to line up correctly ate a lot of foam off the blocks. When it was done I had a nice match on the slope, but the tops of the hill were way too small anymore for a full trooper unit to stand on, much less a full unit and a barricade emplacement.

I glued the top two blocks to the lower block with PVA glue (twice, as the first pass I used household elmer’s school glue, and it never stuck firmly). Once they were glues firmly together I attempted to go all round the hill with a knife and scrape away chunks to give it a more rocky, uneven surface. As I mentioned above, the little foam pebbled just tore out in uneven chunks, so I abandoned this process quickly.

The base it sat on was 1/8” plywood, cut with a jigsaw and sanded down all around the edges with a Dremel sanding bit. I glued the hill to the base (with the correct glue this time) and let that dry for about 24 hours.

The next pass was a base primer. As I mentioned above, I could not find any primer recommended for foam, so I just used flat black Army Painter primer. As before, it melted the styrofoam. Worse this time in fact, due to the primer getting into the areas I had tried to roughen up. It would go on thick, then melt the foam as it dried. After 4 coats the wood base was too thick and the hill still had white spots showing all over. I opted to give up on that and just try to fill in the worst of the white spots while doing the drybrushing.

The tutorial I found online recommended a black primer undercoat, then drybrushing on lighter grays over time to make it look like rock. It looked really good in the pictures on that site, but never quite worked for me here. First off, it really needed a heavier first coat of gray. That tutorial made it sound like all the coats were just lightly applied. Without a good gray base, the black undercoat never went away. In the end, I had what looked like a volcanic hill covered in ash. No way was this going to match my table.

So I scrapped it and went back to the primer. This time I sprayed the whole thing Army Painter Leather Brown. I did the same drybrushing as before with lighter tans and browns. This time, because the undercoat was already a color in line with what I wanted my final to look like, it came out closer to what I had in mind color wise. Texture wise it was still a mess - the drybrushing only added highlights to the weird styrofoam holes to accentuate the mistake.

The next step was to add some texture to the hill. I first glued Woodland Scenics river rocks down on the part of the base which extended past the hill, to provide difficult terrain for units approaching this way. These went on well, but never looked like what I though it should look like. The more realistic looking plaster rocks only served to make the crappy styrofoam rock look faker.

Next I wanted to add sand to the hill tops and between the rocks on the base. Rather than use playground sand, I took a handful of gritty sand from my neighbors front lawn. It was full of little rocks and debris, which made the hill look rougher. I spread a heavy coat of PVA on the flat parts of the hill and between the rocks on the base, and spread this stuff on there liberally. I looked cool, but when I went back to paint this it knocked a lot of it off.

With the texture all glued in place and painted to match the rest of the base and hill, I did the flocking. I sprayed Scenic Cement onto the flat tops of the hill and in between the rocks on the base (basically the same places I had put the sand) and pressed a good amount of the coarse burnt grass flock into the glue. Once this was dry it was done.

The coloring and texture were not terrible. Had I build this from the correct foam it would possibly have looked really cool. The biggest issue here is use. The tops of the hills were just too small in the final product to field full units, and it was not tall enough to merit climbing or clambering up. Like the x-wing, it seems all this would server as would be a blocker to LOS or movement rather than something the units would really use.

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